Martin Luther King Prophetic Message To America

January 15, 2015

Consistent with the 7 Principles and symbols of Kwanzaa, we present the continuing African American Breakthrough Series. Each article in the series will be linked to one of the 7 Principles or symbols. This will provide an instructive example of how the principles and symbols can be used throughout the year. We are mindful that Kwanzaa is the dedicated period in which we take inventory of our commitments and our fidelity to our history and culture. 

symbol_kujichaguli-1The Kwanzaa principle Kujichagulia (Self-determination) and the symbol Mkeka (Mat) asks us to study and be informed by our history and culture and celebrate our heroes—women and men who have made a significant contributions to our lives and history. This month, we feature Martin Luther King, Jr.


In 1967 Martin Luther King posed the timely question in his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Community or Chaos? The current state of America: perpetual war, devastating inequality, incessant violence and cruelty, and crippling racism, indifference, and neglect, merits revisiting King’s prophetic message to America.

Perpetual War

King observed that the obscene expenditure on the Vietnam War was one of the permanent features—“militarism,” of what he referred as “the triple evils,” corroding American society and threating humanity. “I knew,” he said, “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.” And still further, in a blistering criticism, King stated:

“And don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, “You’re too arrogant! And if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power.

And, in the best of the black prophetic tradition, King issued a jeremiad on America’s excessive military expenditures: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

In light of America’s “War on Terror” and President Obama going all in on the bombing in the Muslim world, King’s prophetic message merits attention. For as As George Santayana famously said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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